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Healthwatch Suffolk’s project to encourage co-production between local people and organisations

About the project

We are the Co-production Team at Healthwatch Suffolk. We are made up of two part-time members of staff and ten Co-production Ambassadors, who bring their perspectives and experiences of needing and using health and social care services.

Our story began in 2019. Our local Healthwatch invited the local community and partner organisations together to understand what co-production means, and how it can and should be embedded into the culture of health and social care provision.

We started by hosting ‘A Blank Canvas’; a community event, where there was a clear appetite for a joined-up approach. This opened the conversation for people to share their hopes and concerns. Suffolk already had the skills, people and passion for co-production, but a shared understanding and agreed approach was missing.

There is not one fixed definition for co-production: we encourage each project or service to agree what it means in their situation. Our definition, co-produced locally and adapted from Think Local Act Personal National Co-production Advisory Group, is:

“A meeting of minds coming together to find a shared solution. The approach is built on the principle that those who use a service are best placed to help design it. It means aspiring to be equal partners and co-creators.”

A direction of travel steered by the attendees of ‘A Blank Canvas’ was to collaboratively establish guiding principles to help us form the foundations for working in co-production.

By November 2019 we, and 13 members of the community and staff from partner organisations, had planned a follow-up event named ‘Cooking up Co-production’ where the local principles of co-production would be discussed.

Donning chef outfits, Healthwatch Suffolk staff members became the inspiration and literal drawing boards for people to express their understanding and wishes for co-production in Suffolk. Each of us represented one of the four principles published by SCIE, to act as our starting point and guide:

  • equality
  • diversity
  • accessibility
  • reciprocity.

In the activity, people stood up from their seats and used clothes pegs to attach their contributing ‘ingredients’ onto an apron. In this process, our local ‘Recipe for Co-production’ began to take shape.

It is important to everybody that when local services say they are planning and using co-production, we can have some confidence that they are truly working with people who use services and their carers, utilising the agreed principles of co-production.

After the event, more people joined in online to vote on the detail of what had been discussed. The resulting principles of co-production are:

  • accessibility
  • trust
  • equality
  • mutual benefit
  • evaluation
  • diversity.

We have produced a poster showing our local recipe for co-production.

The principles of co-production are still being discussed, debated and translated into practice.

Our offer

Co-producing these principles means we are able to organically develop our offer to support local people and organisations to co-produce together. The types of support we provide have always been steered by our conversations with the growing network of learning co-producers, at all stages of service design and development.

Here are some examples:

  • co-production network of contacts – we regularly share the latest news, opportunities and resources.
  • training workshop, co-facilitated with our Ambassadors, offering both introductory and more in-depth interactive sessions.
  • literature review exploring the value of co-production, for people who use services, communities and organisations, as well as the value societally and financially.

For our evolving resource selection, visit Healthwatch Suffolk – Co-production resources.

Our Co-production Ambassadors are a vital part of our journey. We gain a great and varied amount of knowledge from their perspectives and contributions. View our team’s biographies, which include reasons why co-production is so important to us all individually. Our first Ambassador has kindly shared their personal story about how being involved in co-production aids their recovery, as they navigate a complex health and social care system.

Co-producing a brand-new hospital

“Designed by our community, for our community”

One of the flagship examples of co-production locally is the design of a new hospital facility in West Suffolk. The local NHS Trust’s leaders aspire to bring about a whole new culture for staff and the community by embedding the principles of co-production across the entire design and build process, and beyond.

It began with a meeting of the Governing Programme Board dedicated to establishing a shared understanding of co-production. Space and time were given for members to voice any challenges and barriers that concerned them.

A co-production toolkit method was co-designed and co-refined, supported by the Healthwatch Suffolk team alongside a key Ambassador. It provided guidance to allow the same exploratory conversations to take place wherever, whenever, with whoever, and however – allowing information and ideas to be collected from many different people. It also allowed people from all walks of life, staff at all levels and patients with different accessibility needs to work together.

Between September 2020 and June 2021, 140 in-depth workshops were held across 12 different workstreams, working tirelessly to use the co-production toolkit with individual patients and families.

Find out more about this project: How to co-produce a health system: Our co-production team reflects on a rather different approach in West Suffolk.

Video of Programme leader speaking about this co-production with us.

For more information about our work, visit: Healthwatch Suffolk: Co-production in Suffolk

We welcome you to have a cup of tea and chat, either online or in person. You could even be a guest in our A Little Cup of Co-production’ video series!